Robotics for Prevention of Nuclear Disasters 1980-2000 (1)

Nuclear Accident and Robotics Project

Yoshihiko Nakamura, Professor, the University of Tokyo

In the history of accidents at nuclear power plants, the following three are significant:

The followings are two robotics project conducted in Japan for disaster prevention at nuclear power plants.

  • National Project on Advanced Robot for Hazardous Environment (1983-1990)
  • Robotic System for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness (2000-2001)

It should be considered that the Three Mile Island accident led to “National Project on Advanced Robot for Hazardous Environment.” During eight years of the project, the Chernobyl disaster occurred and provided a tense feeling to the project participants. After the Tokaimura nuclear accident, “Robotic System for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness” was conducted immediately. The fact that the practical proof had been achieved after a year showed how largely the accident impacted.

“National Project on Advanced Robot for Hazardous Environment” was set up for the following purpose: “Considering robots as composite systems, develop component technologies necessary to realize such systems, and synthesize robot systems with the developed technologies” [1]. In the project, eighteen companies, two corporations and two national research institutes participated, approximately 20 billion yen was used for the research ([2]), and the following robots were developed.

(1) Robots in nuclear power plant (Nuclear Robot)
(2) Robots supporting petroleum production (Marine Robot)
(3) Robots for preventing disaster at production facilities (Disaster-preventing Robot)

The reference [2] points out that the efforts of practical use is required, and claims “It is necessary to
have developed practical robots before accidents like TMI or Chernobyl should occur again (though, obviously, they should never occur again).”

In “Robotic System for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness”, Manufacturing Science and Technology Center initiated the development in 2000, sponsored by the Japanese government. The committee for development promotion was established and the development goals were set after the investigation overseas, the working group activities, and so on. The participant companies, selected by solicitation, completed design and manufacturing in a year, and carried out the verification tests in the following year, on March 22-23, 2001 ([3],[4]). In the beginning of reference [3], it is stated “although the use of robots for final treatments was considered in the Tokaimura case, they were never used actually. After all, it would have been difficult to tackle the emergency using the robots without the experts trained for prevention of nuclear disasters.” Then, the reference [3] concludes “It is important to maintain the system so that they are brought anywhere and anytime, 24 hours a day, every day. Robots are required to be maintained, like general machinery products and electrical products. Furthermore, we need to upgrade and improve the robots because the robot technologies are to be sophisticated in the future. Moreover, it is difficult to keep the operational skills without training every day. Although the base of robot hardware has been completed in this project, it is important to accelerate the software development including their operation and management to apply robots to practical use.

  1. Shigeoki Hirai, On special issue Large-Scale National R & D Project on Advanced  Robot Technology (in Japanese), Journal of the Robotics Society of Japan, Vol.9, No.5, p.61, 1991.
  2. Masaharu Takano, National Project on Advanced Robot Technology (in Japanese), Journal of the Robotics Society of Japan, Vol.9, No.5, p.74, 1991.
  3. Takahisa Mano and Shoichi Hamada, Development of Robotic System for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness, Journal of the Robotics Society of Japan, Vol.19, No.6, pp.38-45, 2001.
  4. Shoichi Hamada and Takahisa Mano, Survey Report on Robotic Systems for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness (in Japanese), Journal of the Robotics Society of Japan, Vol.19, No.6, pp.2-8, 2001.
  5. Manufacturing Science and Technology Center, Report of the subsidy business for nuclear energy disaster prevention aid system development. 1999 FY. August, 2001.


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